If someone asked you to name the most prevalent infectious disease among U.S. children, you might say the common cold or even influenza. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is likely the most common. In fact, more than 40 percent of kids have this contagious condition by the time they enter kindergarten.
Strangely enough, mothers may unknowingly cause cavities in their babies. Decay in baby teeth results from an overgrowth of oral bacteria, and mothers, or other intimate caregivers, can pass this bacteria to their babies through close contact. Other causes of decay include putting a baby to bed with a bottle and inadequate fluoride intake.
While baby -- or primary -- teeth may be temporary, they're important because they hold space in the jaw for permanent teeth and are necessary for chewing and speaking. Besides causing pain, cavities in baby teeth can also increase the risk of decay in permanent teeth.
The good news is that tooth decay is a preventable disease. Following are steps you can take to protect your baby's teeth, based on new recommendations recently issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Studies have shown a link between a mother's oral health and her baby's, so it's important to reduce your own oral bacteria level by thoroughly brushing your teeth every morning and evening and flossing at least once daily. Be sure to use a fluoride toothpaste, and rinse nightly with an alcohol-free mouthwash that also contains fluoride. Consume fruit juices only at meals, and try to limit carbonated beverages during the first 30 months of your baby's life, as these drinks have been associated with an increased risk of tooth decay. See a dentist regularly, and never share utensils with your baby or clean a dropped pacifier in your own mouth. If you like to chew gum, choose a brand that contains xylitol, as recent research suggests that this ingredient can decrease your child's rate of tooth decay.
Clean your baby's mouth with a damp cloth after feedings. When his teeth start to come in at around 6 months, brush them twice each day, and begin flossing when the teeth touch one another. Provide no more than a total of 4 to 8 ounces of juice daily, and serve it only at mealtime. If you put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill it with water, and never give him carbonated drinks. Provide fluoride only as recommended by your pediatrician.